The new look of Microsoft Office

Post ImageI wish I was at Microsoft’s Professional Developers Conference (PDC) this week, but fortunately there are tons of announcements and resources and information being posted online. One such announcement was the first public demo of Office 12, with a completely redesigned user interface:

Thousands of software developers at the sold-out Microsoft Professional Developers Conference 2005 today got a preview of a new, redesigned user interface (UI) that will debut in several core applications of the next version of Microsoft Office, code-named Office “12.”

While the Office applications have increased tremendously in power and added functionality in response to customer needs, the core UI has remained substantially unchanged for nearly 20 years. The command bar in Microsoft Office Word 2003, for example, looks much the same as the command bar in Word 2.0 did in 1998. In fact, the new UI is the biggest, most visible change to the way the core Office applications work since the introduction of the toolbar in 1997.

The first thing I saw related to the new UI was this PressPass article and screenshots. And to be honest, my very first reaction was “what?!” I didn’t like the new look of the applications based on the screenshots, but I think that’s mostly because I didn’t understand how it worked. After I checked out the Channel9 video, my opinion completely changed. Screenshots just don’t do the new interface justice. It is, quite simply, amazing! Check out the video and see what I mean – demos start around 10 minutes in. Office 12 has no drop down menus or toolbars. Instead, there is a new “ribbon” control along the top that makes the commands in each application readily available in an organized manner. There’s also live previewing – hover over an option, and it will appear in the document before you make the change so you can see what it looks like.

So far Outlook only makes use of the new interface for writing emails, not in the main application. I can see why, but I don’t think it’s a great idea for Outlook to be different from the other applications. I also wonder if OneNote and other Office-family members will make use of the new interface too. I hope so.

It’s still a bit shocking, but I think Office needed a new interface. Far too many commands made the interface cluttered and difficult to use. Menus and toolbars are familiar, but they aren’t the most powerful interface in the world. The new “ribbon” controls are just sweet, and definitely a useful improvement. And who knows, maybe the new interface will finally convince corporations to upgrade.

I can’t wait to play with the new Office now!

Read: Microsoft PressPass